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Distraction is anything that diverts the driver’s attention from the primary tasks of navigating the vehicle and responding to critical events.  To put it another way, a distraction is anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual distraction), your mind off the road (cognitive distraction), or your hands off the wheel (manual distraction).  So when you think about tasks that can be a driving distraction, you can see that they often fit into more than one category: eating is visual and manual, whereas using a navigation system is all three.  

There are two basic components of the distraction safety problem: The attentional demands of the distracting task and the frequency with which drivers choose to multitask.  Task demands relate to the amount of resources (visual, cognitive, manual) required to perform the task.  The other issue is exposure, which is how often drivers engage in the task.  Putting those two concepts together, even an easy task can be a bigger safety problem if the person does the task 50% of their driving time. 

Current and previous NHTSA research investigates how distraction impacts driver performance, and develops and evaluated vehicle-based countermeasures to minimize the negative effects. 

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